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Best Way to Use a TENS Unit

A newscaster reporting about TENS therapy

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) machines have gained popularity as a non-invasive, drug-free method for pain relief. These portable devices deliver low-voltage electrical currents to the pain area. It stimulates the nerves and provides temporary relief from pain. While it can be highly effective, improper use can lead to ineffective results or even cause harm. The best way to use a TENS unit is by setting the frequency based on the pain type.

People go through different types of pain. It is crucial to find relief to function and do their responsibilities. TENS can be a good substitute for common painkillers. But to make the most of a TENS device and experience optimal pain relief, it is essential to understand the best practices and techniques for using it. The following sections will present the most useful way to administer relief for acute pain, chronic pain, and neuropathic pain.

Best Way to Use a TENS Unit for Acute Pain

Acute pain refers to a sudden and intense pain that typically lasts for a short period. The best way to use a TENS unit for this pain type is by operating at high frequencies. It ranges from 80-120 Hz. Sensory-level stimulation or pain gating happens when the electrical impulses flood the nervous system. As a result, the brain finds it more challenging to recognise pain. This method is fast-acting, but the effects leave the body just as fast.

High frequencies are suitable for acute pains because they tend to penetrate deeper into muscle tissues. They also stimulate the nerves more effectively. Additionally, higher frequencies can provide relief from muscle spasms faster than lower frequencies. Furthermore, its sensation is more comfortable.

When using a TENS unit for acute pain, it is important to adjust the frequency appropriately. High frequencies are better for this kind of pain, but people must start with low to avoid sudden shocks. They can gradually increase the settings once they feel more at ease with the therapy.

Common Types of Acute Pain It Can Treat

The common types of acute pain TENS can treat are as follows:

  • Sports injuries – It helps with the reduction of spasms and pain. Moreover, it lessens the risk of further tissue damage as opposed to taking medication.
  • Postsurgical pain – The therapy aids in increasing blood flow to the operation site. It then reduces inflammation and accelerates healing.
  • Headaches – Nerve irritation or inflammation typically causes this. TENS can relax these tension-causing concerns.
  • Period pain – The release of endorphins due to the stimulation helps the body cope with discomfort and pain.
  • Muscle strains – TENS can provide relief by reducing swelling and inflammation. It also provides relaxation.

A person attaching a TENS device on the back of another person

Best Way to Use a TENS Unit for Chronic Pain

The best way to use a TENS unit for chronic pain is by operating it at lower frequencies ranging from 2-10 Hz. This type is called motor-level stimulation. It helps in releasing endorphins, which are natural painkillers produced by the body. These endorphins help in providing long-lasting relief from chronic pain symptoms. It takes a longer time to produce results, but the effects tend to stay longer in the body.

When using a TENS unit for chronic pain, it is important to use the lowest frequency possible. This is because low frequencies can help relax muscles that are tense from pain. When beginning to use a TENS machine for chronic pain, it is best to start at the lowest settings and gradually increase if necessary.

While TENS therapy can offer much-needed relief for chronic pain, it is essential to remember that it is a complementary treatment. It should not replace any prescribed pain medications or medical treatments. Consult with a doctor for a comprehensive pain management plan. By following these best practices, individuals can harness the power of TENS units to manage their chronic pain effectively.

Proper Pad Placement

Proper placement of electrode pads is crucial. It depends on the specific area of pain. For instance, for back pain, the pads should be positioned on either side of the spinal cord. Moreover, it is important to avoid placing the pads directly over irritated or broken skin to prevent further discomfort or complications.

Additionally, the distance between the pads can affect the effectiveness of the therapy. Placing the pads too close together might result in a concentrated and intense sensation. Meanwhile, positioning them too far apart may result in a less effective treatment. Finding the right balance by experimenting with different patterns can help.

A TENS kit including two wing sizes and a pack of gel pads with necessary information

Best Way to Use a TENS Unit for Neuropathic Pain Relief

TENS can also effectively manage neuropathic pain. The best way to use a TENS unit for this is by applying the stimulation at moderate frequencies, typically around 30-50 Hz. People with this condition can utilise devices with burst mode settings. It involves pulses lasting 0.2 ms and breaks of 4-second intervals. This allows muscles time to relax between each pulse cycle while still providing adequate levels of analgesia.

Furthermore, make sure that electrodes are around or in direct contact with the painful area. This targets the nerves directly responsible for causing neuropathic symptoms. Additionally, start with a low-intensity level of no more than 30 mA. This is until the patient feels a mild tingling sensation without any additional discomfort during the application process.

Aside from frequency, a factor to consider is the duration of the therapy. The recommended time for each session depends on the type and intensity of pain. Generally, TENS therapy sessions can last from 15 to 60 minutes. Additionally, there can be multiple sessions throughout the day if necessary. However, it is important to follow the instructions provided by healthcare professionals and avoid overusing the TENS unit.

When to See a Doctor

Knowing when to seek medical attention is crucial when using a TENS unit. If experiencing effects such as increased pain, skin irritation, or discomfort that persists after using the electrical device, it is advisable to consult a doctor. They can assess the condition and guide how to adjust the settings or explore alternative treatments.

Additionally, seeking medical advice before using TENS for people who have any underlying medical conditions such as heart disease or are pregnant is essential. It is to ensure safety and effectiveness. Professionals can help determine the best course of action and provide personalised recommendations for managing pain.


TENS is a safe method of pain relief. People can buy personal units for long-term use. Moreover, it is portable and user-friendly. Thus, individuals can bring it when going out for immediate access to relief. They no longer need to go to therapy centres and hospitals that often. The best way to use a TENS unit for different kinds of pain is by setting the appropriate frequency. For acute, moderate, and chronic pains, use high, moderate, and low frequencies, respectively.

Regardless of the pain type, people must start with low frequencies to prevent sudden shocks or other safety hazards. Moreover, they should follow the general guidelines of TENS, the advice of their doctors, and best practices for higher chances of success. For those who are planning to purchase a device, they can check iTENS from iTENS Australia. They have Bluetooth-enabled machines for added convenience since they can control the settings through a mobile application.

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